Chihei Hatakeyama: Variations
Soundscaping Records

Chihei Hatakeyama keeps things simple on Variations, from the prosaic track titles (“Variation for Piano II” a representative example) to the means of production deployed to generate the album's six settings. Stripped-down it might be—in fact, it's probably the purest recording yet from Hatakeyama—but it also might be the Tokyo-based producer's most lovely. There are no subjects or narratives to speak of, just settings based on sound files heavily processed from electric guitar, piano, and vibraphone (in only one case does a track feature not one but two instruments), complemented by subtly processed field recordings.

Apparently, Hatakeyama toyed with using the title Water before settling on Variations, due to the fact that the material he produced formed repetitive patterns suggestive of water formations. He decided upon Variations upon recognizing the transformational potential offered by the Reaktor and Max/MSP programs he used to create the album's tracks. But he could very well have titled the work Water Variations, given how liquid in character the tracks have turned out to be. Few hard surfaces are present when their tones bleed into one another and shape-shift so readily. Aside from a brief moment or two, few recognizable traces of the originating instruments remain, as Hatakeyama stretches out the acoustic instruments' natural sounds into reverberant meditations of haunting and serene design. “Variation for Electric Guitar II” might at times sound like choir singing altered so extremely by processing it's more nebulous haze than human voices reverberating within an immense Gothic cathedral, but as its title confirms, the track is sourced from guitar only, albeit treated so heavily it's hardly identifiable as such. The longest piece, “Variation for Electric Guitar and Vibraphone,” does, however, include moments where the steely tone of the guitar can be glimpsed though the soft, crackling simmer of field recording textures vies just as much for the listener's attention. While the piano is heard as a crystalline, icy smudge during “Variation for Piano II,” its natural sound occasionally appears amidst the shimmer and shudder of the closing piece, “Variation for Piano III.” But by now, with digital production methods being as advanced they are, it's all moot anyway whether a sound is treated or natural, processed or unprocessed. Projects like Variations ultimately register as exercises in electroacoustic sound, pure and simple, and can be experienced, appreciated, and enjoyed on such terms.

November 2010